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Vote for me if you want to live

By Joe Romm on August 26, 2008 at 9:25 am

"Vote for me if you want to live"


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Okay, the kitten is doing fine, but I really need you to vote for me.

Why? I am only winning with 56% of the vote in the online debate sponsored by the Economist on whether we need technology breakthroughs to solve the “Global energy crisis.” I say ‘only ‘ because the other guy’s new post makes clear he agrees with my position entirely. More importantly, I want to crush the breakthrough technology illusion, which keeps attacking the hope for genuine climate action like a relentless, indestructible, killing machine from an apocalyptic future.

You can read my “rebuttal” of my “opponent,” Peter Meisen, here. My central focuses on the must-read 2000 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Experience Curves for Energy Technology Policy. Here is the key quote from the report:

If we want cost-efficient, CO2-mitigation technologies available during the first decades of the new century, these technologies must be given the opportunity to learn in the current marketplace. Deferring decisions on deployment will risk lock-out of these technologies, i.e., lack of opportunities to learn will foreclose these options making them unavailable to the energy system….

In short, the time to deploy is now!

You can read Meisen’s “rebuttal” — which I would have been happy to sign my name to — here.

You can read a terrific piece on energy efficiency by a guest poster here.

Oh, and did I mention you should go here to vote.

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14 Responses to Vote for me if you want to live

  1. paulm says:

    clicked the button by didn’t get any feedback indicating that it registered my vote (using firefox/safari).

  2. Drew says:

    Joe –

    Can you write something to us, your readers, from a DC insider perspective about why we shouldn’t be freaking out that climate change is getting so little air time at the Democratic National Convention?


  3. kenlevenson says:

    i think you need to register – it’s free.

  4. Teryn Norris says:

    Joe, the IEA has another report I know you’re familiar with — Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 — that devotes an entire section to “RD&D breakthroughs required for technology in power supply.” We wrote about it here. Do you disagree with the IEA, or do you just have a different definition of “breakthrough”?

  5. Joe says:

    I have blogged on that report a couple of times see “Must read IEA report, Part 1: Act now with clean energy or face 6°C warming. Cost is NOT high — media blows the story” and “IEA report, Part 2: Climate Progress has the 450-ppm solution about right“. The “breakthroughs” are mostly needed to achieve the final few GtC reduction at a reasonable marginal cost in their analysis. But they made a couple of flawed assumptions that I have been meaning to blog about. I will get to it in September.

    But the IEA report I cite makes clear that the best way to get a lower cost for the vast majority of technologies we need is through deployment.

  6. kenlevenson says:

    Teryn Norris,
    That report you link to costs big bucks – could you please tell us what the IEA definition is?
    (as your linked post nor the fact sheet don’t)

    Generally, isn’t the word “breakthrough” so badly used and mistreated that it causes more misunderstanding and problems than it’s worth? Breakthrough is often trotted out as a paradigm shift or game changer – on the other hand, much of what gets described as breakthroughs fall far short of that and are merely advances on existing technology – but it is none-the-less described as such….

    For one post describing the very problematic nature of the word see here:


  7. Doug says:

    I also cannot vote on the site, even after I registered. I am using firefox.

  8. Doug says:

    Taking a look at the rebuttal arguments, Joe’s point that Mr. Meisen really has no disagreement with him at all seems quite accurate. What the Economist is doing here is rather annoying.

    The moderator is really straining to try to make this seem like a debate:

    Mr Meisen goes on to make his case that the climate challenge is so daunting that it requires innovation breakthroughs …. he insists that “entirely new business opportunities” will be created by emerging “clean tech” sectors such as IGCC gas turbines, hybrid plug-in cars, LED lighting and solar photovoltaics.

    The paragraph referred to actually starts like this:

    Energy efficiency next. Continuous improvement in technology enables us to get the same amount of work using less energy, materials and time.

    Improvement, not breakthrough. And that’s the only time Miersen mentions any technology change at all. His listing cites many currently-deployed examples.

    In fact, the word “breakthrough” doesn’t even appear once in Meisen’s entire rebuttal — nor in his opening statement, for that matter. The moderator is twisting Meisen’s words to force it into the Economist’s framing of this discussion.

    I can see that Meisen is trying as hard as he can to find disagreement with Joe, even attempting to imply that Joe is somehow arguing against prioritization of the different approaches (conservation, then efficiency, then alternative energy, etc.). Somewhat disingenuous of him, but he can be excused in light of the fact that the Economist could have found some total dumbass propagandist to take his place, so he needed to play the part as best he could, while not spreading disinformation. Kudos to him in that regard.

    I think the opening sentence of Miersen’s conclusion sums it up nicely:

    We now have more elegant, sophisticated and cleaner ways to generate and deliver electricity for our society.

  9. Ronald says:

    I agree with many of the other comments that this wasn’t much of a debate given that Miersen never gave sufficient reasons for his position. but this debate gives 2 other questions/statements that might be true.

    1) Given the level of effort now by people, companies and governments, we are not moving adequately to reduce greenhouse gases enough to avert problems.

    2) Given the level of effort now of people to solve this problem and the unwillingness of people now to accept moderately more costly energy, it may require a breakthrough in lower cost non and low carbon energy to actually solve the problem.

    I agree that we need to deploy what non and low carbon fueled energy that we have now. We go with the technology and costs of energy we have now. But a large percentage of the population is not willing to spend more for energy that is non and low carbon energy. I agree that much of energy avoidance and energy efficiency is cheaper than many energy sources whether non and low carbon or full carbon fueled. But it might require very much cheaper non or low carbon fueled energy for people to use it exclusively. Getting people to use non and low carbon fueled energy exclusively is pretty much where we need to be eventually and if that is true, breakthroughs are needed to solve the problem.

    Present non and low energy sources are enough to solve the problem with sufficient political support.

    That level of political support is insufficient now. Present non and low energy sources are not enough to solve the problem with todays insufficient political support.

    Therefore, lower cost non and low energy sources are needed given the now low level of political support to solve the global warming problem. Breakthoughs in non and low energy sources of energy may be needed for these lower cost energy sources.

    The debate may have been over the wrong question.

  10. jorleh says:

    Use the potential energy of Greenland and Antarctic ice caps, energy and water for whole world for thousands of years.

    And Himalayan and Andes: potential energy easy to generate as electricity for much more time.

    We have the real solution there, but the human mind is stupid. Is it really so stupid?

  11. Earl Killian says:

    Ronald, new wind power is already cheaper than new coal power. The issue is that no new power source is going to compete with the fuel and operating cost of old power plants where the capital costs are already sunk (and in some cases paid off). Only government can shut down old power plants; cost of new power is not going to do it.

    Ronald wrote, “a large percentage of the population is not willing to spend more for energy

    At least for transportation we’re talking about a significant decrease in fuel costs for switching from petroleum to wind electricity. The cost of fueling a mile of travel in a RAV4-EV is 2.4 cents according to http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ compared to 16.2 cents for the non-EV version. The EPA used 8 cents per kWh for electricity. Even if one had to pay 12 cents, the EV fuel would be only 3.6 cents per mile.

    The only breakthrough required is in political leadership.

  12. Ronald says:

    To say that the only breakthrough required is in political leadership is to say no small thing. A breakthrough in some non and low carbon technology and cost would be a great help in the problem. To just say that we only need a breakthrough in political leadership is minimize how hard is will be to push and pull entrenched industries, companies, states and people to accept non and low carbon fuels exclusively.

    I think that only listing the cost of electricity to travel on batteries and not listing the cost of the batteries is like those who advocate nuclear power who only will mention the cost of nuclear fuel, but don’t mention the huge costs of building a nuclear power plant. It’s the total cost that should be mentioned, electricity and batteries and compare that to engine and gasoline.

  13. Earl Killian says:

    Ronald, cost improvements might be “a help in the problem” but not a great one, and certainly not a solution. We currently adding 2 ppm per year to the atmosphere using sunk-cost infrastructure. Cost reductions of new technology will not cause those sunk-cost investments to stop operating; at most they can prevent 2 ppm from turning into 3 ppm. What is absolutely essential is for the us to shut-down the existing infrastructure that is producing the 2 ppm, because it gets us to 450 ppm in a mere 32 years or so.

    California and many countries have already demonstrated a breakthrough in political leadership. The question is how we can achieve the same thing at the US Federal level.

  14. Ronald says:

    I do agree with you on what you wrote. I was just answering and restating the debate question.

    Whether it is political breakthrough, personal respondibility breakthrough, scientific awarness breakthrough, scientific communication breakthrough, people who should know better and haven’t done a single thing to fix it breakthrough, I agree we need a breakthrough and probably multiple breakthroughs.

    I’m with the message of this website that we have the technology to solve this problem without further delay in research and deployment delaying nonsense. Any power plants built today that are full and partial carbon fueled will just have legacy costs of CO2. Buildings without good carbon avoidance and carbon efficiency design and materials will just have the same legacy costs of CO2. Any product like motor vehicles that are purchased that aren’t fuel efficient will have large legacy costs of CO2 for it’s lifetime. The number of places to do the smart thing and the right thing are huge and available.